“More and more South Africans are using generic medications purely because of the price. This is mainly driven by the funding industry which benchmarks what they will pay for a specific medicine for treatment of a certain disease,” says Dr Jacques Snyman MD: Integrated Risk Solutions at Agility Global Health Solutions (Agility). This means that more patients now have access to medicines than before purely due to affordability as more medicines have become available on lower scheme options.
“According to current scheme data the level of generic use in South Africa is approximately 55%. This means there is significant scope for growth as the norm in Europe is closer to 75%,” says Dr Snyman. It is important to note that this is by and largely due to the fact that universal cover along the vein of the proposed NHI model has been entrenched in Europe for some time, and thus a single provider, the state, determines what will be reimbursed.
Dr Snyman is a firm believer that generic medicines registered by the regulatory authorities are of the same quality as branded medication. “Despite the fact that the active ingredient in both is of exactly the same weight, volume and quality of manufacturing, consumers tend to feel they are not obtaining the same quality of drug when using a generic.”
Evidence of consistency
According to Dr Snyman, for generic medication to qualify, there needs to be a certain amount of consistency to that of branded medication. “Clinical studies are conducted to determine, for example, if the drug absorption and movement of the molecule is similar to that of the innovator brand medication. Once you have evidence of consistency it has to be approved by the relevant regulatory authority. Only then do you have a generic multi-source equivalent.”
Dr Snyman notes that the misconception around generic medication also often derives from the substantial difference in price in comparison to branded medicines. The reason behind the price difference is due to the fact that the branded medication manufacturers have to commit large amounts of money to the research and development of the original, where this is not required for the generic form.
Within the industry, Doctor’s tend to predominantly prescribe the branded medicines as they are familiar with the brands. The trust and efficacy of the product has also been built over time. “Branded medication manufacturers spend money and time on marketing the clinical benefits rather than the cost benefits, which is appealing to doctors who are driven by research and evidence,” explains Dr Snyman.
You have a choice
From a consumer perspective, most don’t know the difference between a generic and a branded drug. It is therefore important that consumers educate themselves about the choice between generic and branded medication. “By law it is the pharmacist’s job to tell you there are generic drugs available and that you have a choice between the generic and branded option. However, it is also up to the consumer to enquire,” adds Dr Snyman.
Another option recently made available to consumers is so called clone medicine which is similar to generics but the same as the branded medication but in different packaging. This helps to bring the cost down and is an option should you still want the “brand manufacturers” medicine.
Dr Snyman concludes, “Generic medicine provides consumers with the access to affordable medicines. Medical scheme members are encouraged to use generics or clones of medicines as this will not only assist in making their savings last longer but can also translate into reduction in co-payments.”